George Lucas And His $93 Million Bet On "Red Tails"

by Tambay A. Obenson
October 17, 2011 9:45 AM
25 Comments
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I don't believe the budget for George Lucas' Tuskegee Airmen film, Red Tails has long been public/easily accessible info. This is the first I'm hearing it, which obviously doesn't mean that it's the first time it's been mentioned publicly.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the film, which was entirely funded by Lucas, cost $58 million to make, and $35 million more to distribute, for a total of $93 million! Again, all said to be from George's bank account. No sweat right? After all, dude is worth a reported $3.2 billion, says Forbes magazine, much of it thanks to the Star Wars franchise of films.

The marketing engine for the film has begun - from the recently released trailer, poster, and touring of the cast and crew (they were at the New York Comic Con this past weekend presenting the film).

My last post on this was on a recap of a screening of the film for the Congressional Black Caucus, which stars Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr attended, and afterward, had a few words to share with the audience on Hollywood's approach when it comes to black talent and films with black casts, and, most importantly, the significance of the success of Red Tails.

To say there's pressure on some for this film to succeed would be an understatement; I'm sure the stars of it hope that it thrills at the box office; but maybe no one wants this to succeed more than Lucas, who has $93 million riding on it.

Red Tails is set for release on January 20 - a period that was once relegated to the release of films that studios weren't particularly high on; although there's no longer some steadfast rule in that regard. But I'm not convinced that January is the best time to release a film like this. It's in the middle of winter; snowstorms are always a risk around that time, keeping audiences in doors. But I could certainly be completely wrong!

As of today, scheduled to also open on January 20th, 2012 are Steven Soderbergh's martial arts drama Haywire, and the next installment of the Underworld franchise.

I'll look for Red Tails to definitely take the box office crown that weekend, over those 2 films, but ya never know. Early reviews might be crucial here. And I should note that it's sandwiched between 2 weekends with new films opening on either side that just might shake things up a bit.

Given that, from all I've read about Red Tails, it seems like it's probably going to be a feel-good action movie, which makes it more suited for a Holiday season opening instead - like maybe somewhere between Thanksgiving and Christmas. But there's some serious competition around that time, so maybe not.

Anyway... we'll see. I'm not sure how much it'll need to make to be considered financially successful, but I do know it'll have to surpass $93 million :)

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25 Comments

  • Frustrated Screenwriter | October 19, 2011 8:13 AMReply

    If fickle comments make a black filmmaker so frustrated he has to cast an all-white film in retaliation, then he should get out the business and start a blog.

    Oh wait...

  • Neziah | October 19, 2011 5:00 AMReply

    @ AccidentalVisitor

    How do you know if Aaron McGruder was brought in just to add more jokes? Aaron McGruder has already proven that he can write drama just as well as comedy. The best episodes of The Boondocks showed that.

  • AccidentalVisitor | October 19, 2011 4:33 AMReply

    Forgot to add that I really appreciate what Lucas is doing with this story and how much he is willing to put his financial neck on the line. It is very commendable. Still I do question why he would use so much of his own money for such a film and yet rely on a first time director, a screenwriter with a so-so record in the business and a cast a bit lacking in star power. The most important thing to men is whether a good movie comes out of this. That’s all. I have concerns when a guy like Aaron McGruder is brought in to punch up the script with more jokes. I mean….really?

    Of course I want the movie to do well, not just because it is a black film but because it is a black film that no studio wanted. And for it to fail would mean those studios could sit back and say “I told you so”. The first step to overcoming this is to make the best type of film as humanly possible. This is what Spike failed to do with “Miracle at St. Anna”. Hopefully the same won’t be able to be said about the people behind “Red Tails.” My rule of law tends to be to support films that are actually quality motion pictures. I may make an exception for “Red Tails” if I hear bad things about it. I understand others who don’t feel that way, normally I’ll be on their side. But this time I may feel compelled to give the film my money anyway simply because of the risk Lucas took.

  • Zeus | October 19, 2011 4:07 AMReply

    It’s fickle comments like this that really make the plight of an African American filmmaker that much harder so when a black filmmaker out of frustration says he is going to do movies with all white casts because it is easier, you can’t really say much


    Exactly. Wishing there was a LIKE button for this comment.

  • Micah | October 19, 2011 4:06 AMReply

    I sincerely believe if Red Tails was sold as just an action war movie by George Lucas with minimal references to white people being the villains it would have a good chance of succeeding. People might view it more in line with Saving Private Ryan or other compelling WW2 war films.

    I'm not suggesting changing the story, although from the previews it kind of looks like a run of the mill tale about race. I'm simply talking about the how it's marketed to the public. Remember the Titans succeeded in dealing with race while making sure people were entertained and not seeming off putting to a large part of the movie going audience. I'm sure there were better films that dealt with race but huge box office hits like that are hard to find.

    This might have been a great film to have Washington and Smith pair up on if they would have taken lower salaries up front and more cash if and when the film started to make a profit. They could have definitely pulled in a crowd. Then you could surround them with younger up and coming black actors.

    Before I continue, I want to say stories about race should be told. I'm just concerned we may not be telling them in the most engaging of manners. I'm not suggesting telling stories like this in an Inglorious Bastards style but in ways that draw the audience in more. I know that's quite a challenge given the sensitivity of the subject.

    I'm still going to give the movie a chance.

  • AccidentalVisitor | October 18, 2011 10:10 AMReply

    {{{ Keeping my fingers crossed for this. Im definitely going to see it.

    @ Darla & Mark, what does their dating/marital choices have to do with this movie? Dumbest reason i have ever heard NOT to watch a movie. SMH! }}}

    That was either sarcasm or another example of the sickness that has infiltrated this site in general and the black community in general.

    And you're right that it is a dumb reason. Still even if I was to play along and go with the line of thinking, the reality is that there are like a hundred black guys in the movie and yet the poster made a ridiculous claim that ALL of them except for Ne-yo were married or dating white women. How paranoid and insecure can one get?

  • Tessa | October 18, 2011 7:59 AMReply

    "Outside of MI:5 and Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows, there isn’t a movie this holiday season that could be considered an “action” film."

    No but there are way too many Oscar films to put Red Tails up against in December. It's like putting a chihuahua in a dogfight. It would get eviscerated. No one is going to see Red Tails over We Bought a Zoo, The Great Gatsby, or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. 2 out of 3 of those I'm planning on seeing, and certainly over watching Terrance "Crazy Eyes" Howard.

    Lucas knows what he's doing. Let him do the heavy lifting.

  • slb | October 18, 2011 7:44 AMReply

    To follow up on my point about the release date. I know traditionally that the fall holiday season is very competitive for films but you also have to consider that there is a slot available for "Red Tails". Outside of MI:5 and Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows, there isn't a movie this holiday season that could be considered an "action" film. A film such as "Red Tails" could really fill that void during that two month period.

    Also releasing it in January near MLK day would have the unintended affect of limiting its appeal. If the majority black cast isn't enough, the timing of its release (and the inevitable cliched "I have a dream marketing bliz that will accompany it) will drive mainstream audiences away. But if it here released in the height of the holiday season with everything else, I think it could really make some headway. People, IMO, are more likely to see it as a "mainstream" film if an action film is released during the holiday season.

  • chi guy | October 18, 2011 5:26 AMReply

    The film will be released in January which has become a great time for films to perform well after the xmas blockbusters have been released, I haven't seen the film so I will hold judgement on calling it anything but I have read previous posts and know how you like to get your pre-judge on.

    This story has been beat to the ground??? hmmm. I won't even address that too deeply I will just hit you with a few "genres" like Holocaust, or Mafia. Two "genres" that still churn out films that make money annually.

    Yes the cards are stacked against the film doing well financially.
    You would be surprised how many of US are not familiar with the Tuskeegee airmen, or even the Tuskeegee medical experiment. Also, the HBO film came out 16 years ago.

    Obviously, if this film does not do well, no it won't mean the end of black films but it will kill opportunities for more stories to be told on that grand of a scale. Red Tails doing well gives a book like Standing at The Scratch line a shot at being made in to the epic it deserves.

  • Darla & Mark | October 18, 2011 4:39 AMReply

    All the men in this movie are marry or dating a non-black woman except Ney-o 'F' black history and Lucas bank account, I didn't ask him to use his money.

  • ShebaBaby | October 18, 2011 4:30 AMReply

    $93 Million? Do you know how many low budget or heck even higher budgeted films I could do with that? Call me George!

  • chi guy | October 18, 2011 4:26 AMReply

    Reading some of these comments is very disheartening...Won't watch because an ACTOR dates a person of another color? Young blacks have no desire to witness a bit of OUR HISTORY?...And we wonder why there are so few films that come out about us...

    It's fickle comments like this that really make the plight of an African American filmmaker that much harder so when a black filmmaker out of frustration says he is going to do movies with all white casts because it is easier, you can't really say much

    Red Tails is going to showcase Black Men as fighter pilots, a position that requires a high degree of intelligence as well as physicality. How often do we see Black men as heroes or leaders in that era??? There should be a movement to support this film and drag the youth out.

    WE can't afford for this film to fail

  • Sick & Tired | October 18, 2011 3:44 AMReply

    @Afrostyling:

    No the dumbest reason not to watch a movie is because the writer-director is white.

    Also, this is not a litmus test for all other black films. Geez. Let the fear-mongering cease.

  • Miles Ellison | October 18, 2011 3:42 AMReply

    It would be surprising if this did well at the box office, since it doesn't involve maids, cross-dressing, fat suits, or Jesus. Just important and vital history. One can hope, though.

  • Orville | October 18, 2011 2:50 AMReply

    I don`t know why people hope the movie will do well, I find the storyline boring to be honest. Why does Hollywood always make these historical movies about black people during the Christmas Holidays or early part of the year in January. There is always some biopic about the past.

    No wonder, younger blacks reject these movies because they seem too distant for them. If Hollywood was smart they would make films appealing to the younger black audiences and try to develop younger black stars.

    I know many young blacks do not care for Cuba or Terrance and neither of those guys are leading men either.

  • Afrostyling | October 18, 2011 1:38 AMReply

    Keeping my fingers crossed for this. Im definitely going to see it.
    @ Darla & Mark, what does their dating/marital choices have to do with this movie? Dumbest reason i have ever heard NOT to watch a movie. SMH!

  • Rasheed | October 18, 2011 1:03 AMReply

    @ Orville
    {{I like the MLK Holiday weekend suggestion that sounds good, but I think if the studio had real confidence in the film they would of opened it in late November or early December. Terrance Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr. are also NOT A list stars they don’t have box office power. I am not sure black people even care about those two anymore. I think instead of Hollywood focusing on these old black guys they should have gotten a young black cast and give someone younger a chance at the glory.}}

    Of course the studio doesn't have fatih in this movie. Why would they? It's a Black led WW2 action film with race based themes. White boys hate that shit! LOL!
    It doesn't matter about the cast because there are no young Black actors with box office power. That's another reason why this film NEEDS to succeed. Maybe if this film does well, young cats like Nate Parker, Elijah Kelly and David Oyelowo will get a shot at becoming that box office draw you think is so important (ask the producers of Abduction about how well a so-called draw did in making that film a success).

    {{I think a January 20th debut is the wrong time the movie should be released THIS YEAR not NEXT YEAR. I think this shows the studio has no faith in the film. Also, what audience is this movie for? Yes, it is a black film but the black community is diverse. This movie seems to be targeted towards older black folks but will younger blacks watch do they even care about the storyline? I think people need to remember the black community is not a monolithic group and just because a movie has an all black cast doesn’t mean blacks will support the film.}}

    The rest of this year is too crowded with White box office juggernauts to try to get it out this year. It'll get swallowed. Besides that, you ever consider that Red Tails might not even be done yet. They often tinker with these fx heavy films right up until the release date.
    Maybe the studio doens't have a lot of faith in the film, but so what? They seem to be trying to position it for maximum box office returns, putting it out in a soft time of year. Red Tails is going to be a tough sell and they know that, particularly given our people's reluctance to support films that don't have clear Christian themes and men dressed like women. And like I said before, many of the white boys who would normally flock to a Lucas film have deep seated racial issues and won't support a film where most of the white cast are in one form or another, well, villians.
    The film SHOULD be for all audiences. It's a valuable piece of this country's history and a thrilling action film...at least it looks like that in the trailers... It's for the same audience that saw Saving Pvt Ryan, The Help, Thin Red Line, The Great Debaters, Pearl Harbor, etc. See where I'm going with this?

  • Ghost | October 17, 2011 12:39 PMReply

    will younger blacks watch do they even care about the storyline?
    ---------------
    NO. Why because who in the cast even appeals to them? Most of these guys have gone on to be well known among the white community.

    How many of these guys will BET or the black media even talk to before the film? Of course BET won't talk about it because of who the writer is a certain guy whose Boondocks show bashed BET.

    We can't holler about the lack of black films if we don't promote them among our own media.

    Just like the cast of The Help called out black folk-the cast of this film need to do the same.

    I think it's a SAD comment that a WHITE person can write a check to fund a black film showing black men being MEN not dressing in drag or abusing stupid women. Yet our black filmakers are too busy bashing each other not to work together on a project.

  • Orville | October 17, 2011 12:09 PMReply

    I like the MLK Holiday weekend suggestion that sounds good, but I think if the studio had real confidence in the film they would of opened it in late November or early December. Terrance Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr. are also NOT A list stars they don't have box office power. I am not sure black people even care about those two anymore. I think instead of Hollywood focusing on these old black guys they should have gotten a young black cast and give someone younger a chance at the glory.

    I think a January 20th debut is the wrong time the movie should be released THIS YEAR not NEXT YEAR. I think this shows the studio has no faith in the film. Also, what audience is this movie for? Yes, it is a black film but the black community is diverse. This movie seems to be targeted towards older black folks but will younger blacks watch do they even care about the storyline? I think people need to remember the black community is not a monolithic group and just because a movie has an all black cast doesn't mean blacks will support the film.

  • LeonRaymond Mitchell | October 17, 2011 12:02 PMReply

    I pray, and pray that this film does good, my fingers, toes and legs are crossed with hope cause this is the Last Gasp, cause, we already know films about our past and Legacy and trails and tribulations of our post slavery days don't bring out a Black audience even though they are made for us cause white folk have no desire or interest in a film like this. We needed to have Bank rolled this our selves, But I would see UFO'S land in Harlem before that happens. This will the saddest day for us as Black filmmakers if this does not do good, cause there will be no more chances for us at all-None! And then you will see Black Directors staying as far away from doing Black projects and then, next the casting process for us in any possible project dims and goes away and then we are in a sh*t load of trouble. I always ask how did we get here to this point, I am very worried, Very!

  • Rasheed | October 17, 2011 10:59 AMReply

    Oh yeah...

    And props to Big George for coming out of his pocket for a film like this. It's fucked up that none of 'our' multi-millionaires could get together and do it, but you've gotta count your blessings, right?

  • Rasheed | October 17, 2011 10:57 AMReply

    I think Neziah's right. This film needs as little competition as possible to succeed. That's not a reflection on it's quality but on the insurmountable task of getting Black audiences to come out en masse to a film that doesn't have "Tyler Perry Presents A Film By Tyler Perry Starring Tyler Perry" and white audiences to come out to a film where none of the leads look like them.
    HOPEFULLY, Red Tails does The Help numbers (prayerfully?) and Hollywood'll get a clue.

  • Neziah | October 17, 2011 10:46 AMReply

    @ Slb

    A holiday opening wouldn't be good at all, it would have some major competition during the holiday season. After all, everyone wants to see Tom Cruise kick some ass. *eyeroll*

  • Slb | October 17, 2011 10:23 AMReply

    I agree. A holiday opening would be better for the long term box office prospects of this movie. I guess they're banking on the MLK day holiday bump that propelled such classic Black American movies like "Save The Last Dance" and "Barbeeshop" to great success. *eyeroll*

  • Neziah | October 17, 2011 10:21 AMReply

    If this bombs, say goodbye to any future black blockbusters.

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